Unlearning Faulty Beliefs and Practices in ELT

Unlearning Faulty Beliefs and Practices in ELT

Unlearning Faulty Beliefs and Practices in ELT

Willy A Renandya – 5 April 2022

Life-long learning is usually associated with learning new knowledge and skills throughout one’s life.

Learning new things however is not the only thing that enables us to grow. An important part of the life-long learning process is for us to unlearn our previously held beliefs, assumptions and practices that are no longer tenable.

Indeed, some of our beliefs and practices in ELT may need to be unlearned as they tend to hinder rather than facilitate language learning.

Some people have gone so far as to suggest that our pedagogical practices may in fact be counter-productive or even harmful. John Truscott for example claims that grammar correction is a harmful practice as there is no evidence that shows its effectiveness.

What are some of these beliefs and practices that we need to unlearn? Here are some.

  1. The beliefs and practices that language should be taught discreetly and explicitly using a systematically organized language-focused syllabus. We now know that language learning is a non-linear process, and not a step-by-step process as exemplified in a language-based syllabus. Language learning, research shows, is an emergent process where language forms are acquired when students are immersed in rich language and when they engage in meaningful exchanges in authentic situations.
  2. The beliefs and practices that student errors should be immediately corrected or they may become internalized. We now know that an overemphasis on accuracy can be harmful and may stifle learning. Research suggests that meaning should come before form. In other words, fluency first, then accuracy. Task-based language learning for example is based on this meaning-first principle.
  3. The beliefs and practices that teaching materials (e.g., reading and listening passages) should be always be one (or two) level above students’ current competence. A collorary to this is that easy learning materials have little or no place in language learning.
  4. The beliefs that grammar is more important than vocabulary. This often results in an over-teaching of grammar and a serious neglect of the teaching of vocabulary. The research evidence however shows that vocabulary is the best predictor of one’s ability to read, listen, speak and write.
  5. The beliefs and practices that output-based approaches are superior to input-based approaches. This often leads to an over-emphasis on early production of the language when students are still at the stage of building and developing their linguistic knowledge base.
  6. The beliefs and practices that lecture-style teaching is the only way to engage students in the classroom. Evidence abounds that lecturing style of teaching is probably the least effective way of engaging students in the language classroom. Students learn more when they have ample opportunities to explore and discover for themselves the intricate sentence structures and discourse rules that govern real language use.

There are many other unsupported beliefs and practices out there. If we truly want to grow professionally, we will need to examine our existing beliefs and practices, unlearn some of the unsound beliefs and practices and replace them with new ones that reflect current thinking and scholarship in ELT.

To read the full paper, click below.

Renandya, W.A., Nguyen, T.T.M., Jacobs, G.M. (2022, in press). Learning to unlearn faulty beliefs and practices in ELT. Studies in English Language and Education (SIELE). 

Further reading

Student-Centred Learning: Are we practicing what we preach??

Student-centred learning in ELT


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